Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Earrings of Madame De... (1953)

Just about the only thing negative I can say about this Max Ophuls' movie is that it is almost too perfect, too much of a controlled piece of art, that instead of getting swept into the story, it's impossible not to watch the director pull the strings. I felt a little bit about this the way I sometimes feel about Orson Welles, and Citizen Kane in particular. I appreciate Citizen Kane, and am awed by it, but I am not in love with it. This feels similar. The story is simple but complicated. A spoiled flirtatious wife of a French general pawns a pair of earrings because she needs money. That sets in motion a series of events that lead to a love triangle. The three leads are Danielle Darrieux as Madame De, Charles Boyer (I've never liked him more) as her husband, and Vittorio de Sica as the lover. He was great, and looked like an impossibly handsome Martin Scorsese (if you can imagine such a thing).

The tracking shots in this film are downright brilliant, the story unpredictable. What I really loved was the way the meaning of the earrings kept changing, simply by what had happened previously. I also loved how many of the lesser characters--servants, doormen--came alive in the frame because Ophuls allowed it, lingering on them with his camera, giving them snatches of dialogue.

Ophuls directed a couple of films that starred James Mason, and Mason wrote a short poem about the director. Has this ever happened before or since? Anyway, here it is, from Poet Laureate Mason:

A shot that does not call for tracks
Is agony for poor old Max,
Who, separated from his dolly,
Is wrapped in deepest melancholy.
Once, when they took away his crane,
I thought he'd never smile again.

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